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by Martin Green



I was in my bedroom chair, trying to do the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle, which was far tougher than the Sunday one. “The sun’s out,” said my wife Sally. “You should go for a walk.” I grunted something. “I read that being outdoors is good for you, especially if you’re a senior,” she continued. Sally was always reading something about what would be good for us old geezers. As far as I knew, there was nothing about reversing the process of old age.


Both Sally and myself were octogenarians, not so unusual in our Northern California retirement community as its population continued to age. I was five years older and getting uncomfortably closer to 90, which I now perceived to be really old. Somewhere there might be some people who’d aged gracefully, still felt fine, still played golf, ran in marathons, ate and drank whatever they wanted, didn’t take any pills. I didn’t know anyone like that. I’d escaped heart trouble, diabetes, cancer and, as far as I knew, dementia. Still I had a considerable number of ageing ills. After years of tennis playing, I had arthritis in all my joints, especially my knees. My nose ran in the morning and sometimes for the rest of the day. I had daily coughing and sneezing fits. If I sat in a straight-backed chair for more than an hour my back hurt. When we’d first moved to the retirement community I’d noticed residents walking about bent over and shuffling.  Now I sometimes thought of thought of these ageing ills as stones in a pack on my back that made me stoop and was a constant reminder that I was old.


“I’m going to the store,” said Sally. “What are you going to do now?”


“I should write a story,” I said, “but I don’t really feel like it.”  After retiring I’d somehow become a freelance writer for our local paper, the Sacramento Bee, then had gone on to write stories for online magazines. I still contributed a couple of stories to online magazines every month but lately I had a hard time getting ideas and when I did I didn’t have the energy to actually write.  That pack of aging ills was always on my mind as well as on my back. 


Another bad thing that came with aging that you were always getting bad news, friends and acquaintances falling, getting some horrible illness, passing away. My main concern right now was my cousin Ben, six months older than myself, who’d called about a month before to tell me he’d had a stroke. He didn’t have to tell me the stroke had affected his speech as I could hardly understand him, but I did understand he wasn’t doing very well.    He’d told me not to call, he’d call me. Since then I’d e-mailed him a few times but with no response. I checked my e-mail every morning but nothing from him. “I guess I’ll take a walk down to the pound,” I said. “Maybe it’ll do me some good..”


I put down the unfinished puzzle and got my walking stick as I preferred to call it, not a cane, and set out. The pond was on the golf course that was the center of our retirement community.  It was about a twenty minute walk from our house. It made for a nice destination and sometimes I’d see some wildlife there, like an egret or a heron, as well the Canadian geese who’d found a home on our golf course. As I walked, my head down as I’d given up trying to walk in an erect posture, I reflected that walking used to be a pleasure, but now, like many other things, it had become a chore. So had getting dressed, bending over to pick up things and standing up from a chair. I reached the point where I could see the pond but couldn’t see any wildlife except for a foursome of golfers in the distance. But when I reached the vantage point where I could see the whole pond I saw two egrets on the rocks nearest me. They must have become aware of me also because they both took flight and soared away over the pond, then landed on the far side. For a moment, as I watched them soar, I felt as if my spirits were soaring with them, as if the pack of aging ills weighing me down had temporarily fallen away.


I stood in my vantage point for a while, hoping the egrets would again take off but, as egrets do, they stayed motionless. The golfing foursome reached the green and I watched a few minutes as they tried to get their putts in the hole, then I walked back to the house.    Sally was gone, to the store, she’d said. The house was quiet. I saw there was one message on the answering machine. I put it on and heard my cousin Ben’s voice, a little slurred, but understandable, unlike the month before, and, just as my spirits had soared when watching the egrets, they did so now. For some reason, I felt that I might even be able to write a story later.




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